All posts by Rob Darnell

Inside the U.S. Secret Service (2004)

51VD4A3DDDLThere are a lot of documentary movies that bore me to tears, but National Geographic‘s Inside the U.S. Secret Service is not one of those movies. This movie is an excellent, very interesting and educational documentary. I’m glad I decided to watch it. I almost didn’t bother. I had tried to watch several other documentaries on Netflix that sounded interesting but turned out to be so dull I couldn’t finish watching them. But National Geographic did it right with Inside the U.S. Secret Service.

Inside the U.S. Secret Service is a close look at the agency that protects the President of the United States. The movie walks us through the history of the agency, some of the tactics the agency uses and how it operates. Of course there was a lot of information that could not be revealed. The Secret Service can’t have people knowing their secrets because that would very likely make their job more of a challenge than it already is. And make no mistake, the job of the Secret Service is extremely challenging. It’s hard not to appreciate the work these men and women put into protecting the President, his family and anyone else who requires the protection of the Secret Service.

I learned so much from watching this movie. This was something I needed to see, it gave me a new understanding of the Secret Service and the lives of the people they protect, especially the first family. Did you know that anytime you see the President walking across the White House lawn on TV, the bushes in the background have agents hiding in them, watching the President’s every move? No one can see the agents in the bushes, but they’re there.

The President and the first family receives a lot of death threats. We don’t hear about these threats much, but they are countless. Probably most of the threats are from people who don’t actually have the balls to carry them out, but there are enough threats from people who would assassinate the President if given the chance. Since the beginning of our country there have been assassination attempts on United States presidents. Four of those presidents were killed, others were wounded and several narrowly dodged the bullet. The Secret Service is necessary and critical to the President’s survival.

The movie also makes it clear that the agents are human and not the stone cold robots they’re often thought to be. Several agents were interviewed, as well as some of the former presidents and their children. They all provided insights on what it’s like to be in the bubble of protection. The Prisident is a moving target, under constant threat. The Secret Service makes it possible for the President to do his job.

Antique Gun Show

My dad and I went to the antique gun show in Lapeer a few days ago. The place was packed to the gills and it wasn’t easy moving around the building. I’m not a fan of crowds, but I did appreciate all the items that were on display. They were fascinating. I might have spent more time looking at each item, but there were a lot of other people wanting a look too and I didn’t want to hold them up.

This was a gun show, so most of the items were, in fact, guns. A lot of muskets and single shot pistols were on display. I also saw a couple of Spencer rifles and several black powder revolvers. Most of the guns looked old. I think several were from the Civil War era, but others might have dated back to the American Revolution. And some of the guns were copies of the older guns and probably only a few years old.

I especially liked the single shot pistols. If I had the money, I would have bought all of them. There was also a very nice western style hat that I really wanted, but I didn’t have enough money for anything in there. The hat, I think, was pretty old, probably about the same age as the Johnny Reb hat and the Billy Yank hat that were next to it.

We had planned to go to another gun show that was in Flint after we got out of the show in Lapeer, but the roads were pretty bad, so we decided to skip that one and went to the grocery store instead.

Jackie Brown (1997)

51-hZL1wfXLI had heard of Jackie Brown. I’ve even seen bits of the movie here and there, but I’ve never watched the whole movie straight through until last night. First off, Quentin Tarantino is an artist. Every one of his movies that I’ve seen has a very elegant artistic touch to it. Think of Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained and Desperado. The angles of the pictures, the motions of the actors, the shuffling of the scenes, the twists of the stories and just the right amount of comedy, all of it comes together to make a brilliant work of art. It’s like looking at the painting of Mona Lisa and knowing that there’s more to it than what meets the eye.

Samuel L. Jackson played the bad motherfucker again. Except in Jackie Brown, Jackson’s character, Ordell Robbie, was not quite as bright as Jules Winnfield was in Pulp Fiction. Ordell Robbie also lacked the degree of honor that Jules Winnfield had. Ordell Robbie was more of a bad, bad, bad motherfucker. Bad! Your dog shit on the brand new carpet kind of bad. He took several opportunities to remind us of that.

Pam Grier played Jackie Brown and the movie opened with her walking through the airport dressed in a stewardess uniform. Jackie Brown was the key character in a heist to steal a large sum of money. She was a tough character with a survivalist instinct that gets her out of trouble. Jackie Brown outsmarted Ordell Robbie and the ATF.

The movie ended with an emotional, not entirely happy note.

Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer

 

Image2The President was shot. While the surgeons at Luther Terry Memorial Hospital fought to save the President’s life, a bomb at the White House went off. The White House and the hospital are only a mile apart and the explosion caused a brief power outage at the hospital. The outage messed up some of the hospital’s equipment, including a piece of equipment that one doctor was using to treat a soldier with PTSD. Now several people at the hospital can read the memories of another person. This becomes a national security issue because someone is reading the President’s memories.

Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer, has clear and easy to understand prose. The story just kind of flowed to me. It was a fun read. The characters were believable, to the point where some of them made me so mad I wanted to smack them. There were times when I couldn’t help comparing Agent Susan Dawson to Cersei Lannister.

All of the characters were well done, but my favorite was Kadeem Adams. Kadeem stole the scene every time he was on stage. Although he was a point-of-view character, the spotlight wasn’t on him that much. But whenever the spotlight was on Kadeem, his performance was impressive as hell. I loved the things he said, the way he said them, the actions he took and how his personality really shined through.

Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley

untitledI have seen the movie, but that was back when there were still things you could fit a VHS into. Remember those? Well, that was a long time ago and I don’t remember the movie so well. I was curious about the story, so I decided to read the book. What a fine read it was. If you saw the movie and thought it was good, you ought to read the book. The book takes “good” to a whole new level. Walter Mosley‘s Devil in a Blue Dress is one of those easy to pick up and hard to put down books.

It’s 1948 in Los Angeles. Easy Rawlins is down on his luck. He just lost his job and his mortgage bill needs to be paid or he will lose his house. While drinking at a friend’s bar, Easy meets DeWitt Albright who hires him to find a girl. No one bothers to tell Easy how much trouble this girl is. Easy finds out that he’s not the only person looking for the girl, but by then several people have been murdered and Easy is a suspect. But it’s not only the cops he has to worry about

Escapement, by Jay Lake

jIn Jay Lake‘s Escapement Paolina Barthes is a girl of fifteen born and raised in Praia Nova, a small coastal village in the shadows a Muralha, or the Wall. Women in Poalina’s village never amount to much in the world where men see themselves as superior to women. But Paolina is an exception. She has a gift unlike any other. Not only does she understand machinery to the degree that she can repair things that her village depends on, she also figures out how to invent something more powerful than any weapon known to man. Realizing Praia Nova has so little to offer her, Paolina sets out for England where she believes she will find wizards who can teach her more than she already knows. But she never makes it to England. Trouble meets her along the way and she finds herself hunted by the British Empire and the Celestial Empire, as well as two secret societies, the White Birds and the Silent Order. All of them want her gleam, which is the instrument she invented that can do the work of God.

The ACA

A few weeks ago I had a lengthy discussion on Facebook about the ACA. The bulk of the discussion was voiced by me, a couple of my cousins and an asshole who seemed to think his opinion was the only opinion that mattered (and who I no longer respect after he basically called us all freeloaders when he couldn’t convince us that his way is the only way).

I was swayed back and forth between both sides of the argument. But then something Irene said pulled it all together for me and I was able to take a solid stance. So, here’s the summary and what it all came down to for me.

(Comment copied from the discussion with mild edits applied.)

I guess it depends on how you look at it. When we call it slavery, though, it feels like a big exaggeration, like we’re blowing the whole thing out of proportion. If this is slavery, it’s barely noticeable.

I’ve been thinking about this discussion all day. Wendy moved to England a little more than a year ago when she married Mark. I don’t know exactly how long she had been fighting cancer, but if I recall correctly, she’d beaten the cancer not long before she got married. So, it wasn’t that long ago that she was dealing with the insurance companies we have here in the United States. I think her information is up-to-date and accurate.

Now Wendy is living in England and, as she said, she gets free healthcare. David pointed out that there is no such thing as free healthcare; that somebody else has to shoulder the expenses for the healthcare that is considered to be “free”. He’s not wrong, but Wendy’s not exactly getting charity that somebody else has to pay for. Wendy pays 70 pounds a month along with, I’m guessing, everyone else in the UK, whether they need the medical attention or not. This insures that when somebody does need medical attention they don’t have to worry about whether they can afford it or not, because it’s already covered.

Why shouldn’t we have something like that in the United States? While the ACA is not exactly the same thing as what Wendy has in England, it sounds like they intend for it to function in pretty much the same way. Irene, who has worked in the medical field for years, reminded us that people use emergency rooms as doctor’s offices because they can’t afford insurance. More often than not, they also can’t afford the bill for their time in the emergency room. The bill goes to the government and the government pays it with tax dollars.

I think that people who oppose the ACA are saying to those in need of medical attention, “If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it.” But I feel that nobody should have to suffer or die just because they can’t afford insurance. The ACA, like the NHS, could make it so that nobody has to worry about not being able to afford healthcare when they need it.

So, that’s where I stand. The ACA, although not perfect, makes a lot of sense to me now. I think it makes as much sense as paying taxes for roads, schools, law enforcement and fire departments, etc. Everyone needs medical attention at some point in their lives, and if they can’t afford it, the government covers it. I think the ACA would make it so the government doesn’t have to pay for so much and it could improve the economy. It would probably be better if we went for something more like what they have in Europe, but the ACA looks like a step in the right direction.

The Return of Anxiety

It was about a week ago when I had a total meltdown. I had been feeling great for quite a while, confident and secure. I wasn’t worrying about much. I was having fun, goofing off and enjoying myself. And then the meltdown happened. One minute I was fine, the next minute I was completely aware of how stupid and annoying I am. A wave of depression washed over me and I felt like I owed everyone an apology. An apology for what? I don’t know. I guess for existing within their range of awareness.

This happens once in a while. I usually choose to get drunk when it happens. Yes, yes, I drink, well, often. But usually I drink because I enjoy it and not as a means of comfort. When I’m in a total slump, I drink because it gives me some measure of peace. It numbs my senses to whatever is bothering me. By the time the alcohol wears off, the worst of whatever it was that had me so down will be behind me. At least that’s how it usually works out.

But even though the worst is behind me, there’s a sort of recovery stage that follows. I have to rebuild my confidence. It’s a slippery slope. I gain some ground and I lose some ground, and eventually I make to the top of the mountain again. Eventually I will be able to stop second guessing myself and everything will be dandy.

This anxiety, or whatever you call it, might well be over nothing. Right now, though, I’m not so sure that it is. But whether it’s over nothing or not, I’ll make it to the top of the mountain, eventually.

God in My Life

I feel like a hypocrite sometimes. I have a habit of sounding off when I see or hear something I disagree with. There are times when I wish I’d bitten my tongue and kept quiet. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get into the argument, that wants to keep my opinions to myself. And often I feel like a fool when I speak up. I think I have a pretty good grasp on what the Bible says and what it doesn’t, but I don’t hold that true to the Bible. There’s things in the Bible that rub me the wrong way. I’m one of those people who takes the things I like from the Bible and ignores the things I don’t like. Because I do that, it’s probably not fair for me to point out that this or that “goes against God’s word” and yah, yah, yah.

But there’s more. Over the last week or so, I’ve been questioning my faith. I feel like every time I say I believe in God, it’s as if I’m saying I believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I don’t think having a relationship with God is necessary for people to be happy and loving. For myself, why I believe at all: Well, I feel a pull at my heart, a presence in mind and in the world around me. A sort of soft embrace that is just barely felt and assures me that I’m never alone.

But am I just kidding myself? I mean, I’ve always had a wild imagination. Things from any book I read can make me feel that something is there. Something in Stephen King‘s Bag of Bones scared me so bad I threw the book across the room to get it away from me. “Hey, that’s my dust catcher!”

Is it possible that the Bible has a similar effect? Maybe I believe in God because so many other people in my life do and it feels right to believe. I’m not saying that I’m giving up my faith, because I still feel what I call God’s presence, and whenever I think to  denounce God, it feels wrong. But whether that means anything or not, I don’t know. I’m currently questioning my faith, and I think it’s healthy to do so. There’s nothing wrong with thinking things over.

My Childhood Home

This is the house I lived in when I was kid, all done up in Sims 3. I lived there from the time I was a toddler until I was thirteen. It’s the setting of the Where I Want to Be song that I posted some weeks ago. Not everything measures up quite right, but it’s close enough. The outside siding had been yellow instead of white, but the Sims didn’t have a yellow siding that looked right. The furniture is placed as I remember it best, though I might be wrong about some thing.

house1

The front.

house2

The back. The deck and patio were not there in the beginning. I remember helping my dad build the deck. I’m guessing I was around five. The patio came soon after the deck, My brother, my sister and I had our handprints in the corner that is not touching the deck or the house.

house3

I chose brightly colored furniture just so it would show up better, but much of our furniture was dark colored. The walled-in spaces between the rooms were closets. And that door by the refrigerator, that was where the basement stairs were, but the Sims were being a pain in the ass about fitting the stairs in there, so I left them out.

house6

The basement. The wall in the middle wasn’t always there. My dad built that when I was about eight or nine so he could have a band room separated from the rest of the basement. The room behind the stairs, that was where the washer and dryer were. There was also an old junked up motorcycle leftover from my dad’s teen years, and an old coat hanging on the wall, dirty, dusty, and infested with spiders. The space behind the stairs was more or less a place to store junk.

 house4

We built the garage when I was around eight. I remember helping my dad with this too. The space between the garage and the house was a room where my mom had her hair salon. I wanted to include that room, but the Sims wouldn’t let me make a wall from a ground level building to a building on a foundation, so that’s another thing I was forced to leave out. So, my mom had a hair salon and my dad did a lot of auto body repairs in the garage.

house5

When I was around ten, we added onto the house. We moved the deck back, built a family room with a fireplace and a bar. We also built a larger bedroom for my parents. My brother moved into their old bedroom and I had a room to myself.

The house was on an acre of property. There was a hill in the backyard. The bottom of the hill was where we rode our motorcycles. The woods were behind the property. There were many other houses in the neighborhood like ours.

~

It’s been a long road.
So many days have gone by.
There are times I will always remember,
And I still have the old pictures.
I’m sitting here thinking
How I’d like to be there again.

When I was a kid we had a house
At the end of Big Buck Lane.
The world wasn’t much more
Than our neighborhood,
But that was all we needed.
In the spring and summertime
We’d ride our bikes where we wanted,
As long as we stayed within our limits.
It was just three short streets,
But I had felt free.

I want to be there again.

Sometimes we’d sit on the grass
By the basement window
And listen to mom and dad’s
Band practice after sunset.
And I remember playing basketball
On the patio beside the deck.
We had no hoop to shoot for,
But still we managed to score.
Life wasn’t always easy,
But I had felt at peace.

I want to be there again.

It was a time when I was pure at heart
And life was new and full of adventure.
The trails in the woods were haunted war paths
And the sandpit had buried treasure.

Our weapons were cap guns
And plastic bows and arrows.
Sometimes swords and knives
Were the juicer choice.
Before Nintendo came into our home
And motorcycles were what we rode,
Before we got into bigger things,
That’s where I want to be.

I want to be there again.